Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How to Help Your Employees to Get "It”

There are several key things that every employee needs to understand if they want to get ahead in the work world. These things collectively comprise the “it” that every manager hopes his or her employees will get.


People who know me know I have been involved with the Boy Scouts of America for many years. When I was a Scoutmaster I had charge over twenty-nine 12-13-year-old boys. I was tasked with nurturing and molding their young minds to help them become better human beings. I took my role very seriously and tried to magnify my calling to the best of my ability.

One night, at one of our monthly campouts, as we were all sitting around the campfire, I asked my boys an open-ended question: “At what age do people typically tend to get it?” I didn’t explain what I meant by “it.” I wanted to see if they, themselves, got it.

Wisely, the boys said there is no specific age when people get it. Some people, they concluded, never get it. They also suggested that people get it at an early age and others only catch on late in their life. They surmised that there are those who only get it only after a life changing or significant emotional experience that caused the person to reflect upon their life.

I then asked: “Who do you feel are the happiest in this life – those who get it, or those who don’t?” They all agreed people who get it are better off than those who don’t get it and end up struggling in life.

Finally, I asked these highly astute young men to tell me what the “its” are in life that people need to get if they want to be happy.

After a very interesting philosophical discussion they concluded there is an “it” in every element of life. There is an “it” in school; and those who figure it out do better scholastically than those who struggle or rebel against “it.”

They said there is an “it” at home and in the family; and those who know it and do it have a happy home and loving family, while those who struggle or rebel against the “it” of healthy family relationships have a difficult home life. They also assumed there must be an “it” at work that, when understood and adhered to, leads to a happy and successful career.

Your Responsibility to Help Employees to Get It

As a manager, you’re in an excellent position to help your employees to “get it.” The main purpose of identifying what you want from your employees is to help them to get the “it” of work – the reason why they exist as an employee. The sooner an employee gets it, the better off they will be. Those who get it go far in their career – and in life – while those who don’t get it generally struggle until they figure it out.

There are several key things every employee needs to understand if they want to get ahead in the work world. These things collectively comprise the “it” that every manager hopes his or her employees will get, because once an employee does get it the manager doesn’t have to manage that employee as closely as those workers who don’t get it.

The "It" in Business

The “it” of business comprises what I call the major premise of work. If an employee doesn’t get the major premise, she will have an even harder time grasping the subtle nuances at work. If, however, she grasps the big picture and understands why she exists as an employee, she is more likely to successfully fulfill her role and win at work.

Many employees struggle because they are confused about why they exist as an employee. They believe they were hired to serve the customer, produce a product, accomplish tasks, or do their job. Some less dedicated employees falsely believe they are only at work to earn a paycheck.

But every employee was hired for two primary reasons: Employees exist to increase revenue and reduce costs in order to maximize the profitability of their employer. Everything else that an employee does is a means to these two ends. All employees exist to either drive revenue or control costs in order to improve the company’s bottom-line. This is the major premise!

When an employee accepts that he was hired to increase revenue or reduce costs, he then can focus his energy and effort toward that end. He can prioritize his work and channel his performance toward maximizing profits, rather than merely accomplishing tasks. All job duties and responsibilities that don’t result in either generating revenue or controlling costs should be revised or eliminated. Everything that matters in the workplace either drives revenue or reduces costs. Everything else is an appendage to these two things.

Employees who successfully deliver this “it” enhance their value to the organization. This is another major premise. Valuable employees generally reap the rewards of their value. Good employees seldom lose their job. During depressed economic times, when cost-cutting layoffs occur, employees and departments with the least perceived value are usually the first to go. Consequently, it’s always in the best interest of an employee to understand and commit to the major premise of their organization by doing all they can to increase revenue, reduce costs, and deliver on the implied promises inherent in their job classification.

Getting Employees to Do It

Another important premise for you to remember is the knowledge that employees will only give you what you want when it is imperative for them to do so. When you find the right imperative you focus the effort of your employees by instilling an internal desire to accomplish what you want.

Sometimes the business imperative of is all employees need in order to perform well. For example, knowing that a company might go out of business if the employees don’t improve the quality of the products they produce can often motivate employees to improve their results. Seeing the impact a new competitor is having in taking away business from your organization can have a motivating effect on a sales force to generate more business. Understanding the fatal impact a production flaw might have in killing a customer can help employees concentrate on job safety. Consequently, finding the right business imperative that the employees can latch onto is critical to gaining their commitment to do it.

The best imperatives, however, are those that are specific to the interests and needs of the individual employee. Most people will not change their behavior until the consequences are such that they want to. Although negative consequences can cause people to move in the direction you want, the best consequences are those that provide an employee with a positive imperative to perform well. For example, delivery truck drivers who are allowed to go home as soon as all of their deliveries are made are less inclined to dally as they go about their work. Salespeople who get a commission on every sell usually stay focused on selling, rather than loitering around the sales floor. Teachers who are held accountable for student test scores are more inclined to teach rather than babysit.

Supporting Those Who Get It

The strongest imperative in the workplace is your support as a manager. There will come a day when every employee will need your support. There will come a day when they want a day off, a special favor, a promotion or a pay raise. When that day comes you will probably be more inclined to support those employees who are worthy of your backing because of how they performed and acted at work.

In other words, it is imperative for your employees to perform and act the way you want them to because there will come a day when it will be in their best interest to do so. The reason why employees need to perform well today is because there will come a day in their future when they will want to be rewarded for their actions.
Those employees who “get it,” realize their performance today determines the support they receive in the future. This is why I tell my employees not to perform well for me, or for the company, or for the customers; but, rather, to do a good job for themselves, because there will come a day when they will want my support. And I only support those in the future who have supported me in the past by doing what I expect. This is the “it” I want them to get.

When your employees understand the major premise of your business and see the imperative for their work, they generally do what you want them to do. The more clearly you can define and articulate the major premises and personal imperatives, the less you will have to manage your people. When your employees keep the major premise and personal imperatives uppermost in their minds, they hold themselves accountable and manage their own performance.

Let me give you an example of this by discussing another area of our lives where there are major premises and personal imperatives – at home.

The Major Premise at Home

If you are like most parents, you may experience the occasional tiff or tussle with your children, particularly if they are teenagers. This struggle often occurs because there is great disparity between what parents perceive their role to be and how teenagers view the parents’ role. Parents believe they exist to teach, nurture and protect their children. Teenagers seem to think parents exist to either make their lives miserable or to give them money whenever they want so they can to do whatever they want.

When we were having difficulties with our son we found it helpful to clarify for him what we felt was the major premise of why we exist as parents. We wrote the premise down and then talked to him about it so he would know that everything we do as parents is governed by one over-arching purpose. We told him the following is why we exist as parents:

We love you.
We would never do anything to purposely harm you.
We want you to have a happy, successful, independent and self-sustaining life.
Everything we do as parents is designed toward that end,
So don’t fight against us; we are on your side.

Literally everything we do as parents is governed by our desire for our son to have a happy, successful, independent and self-sustaining life. Although it is sometimes difficult for our son to accept it when we tell him he cannot do something, he at least understands our reasoning when we can show our decision is tied to the major premise.

Obviously we don’t want to say no to our son; we want to say yes. We’re not ogres. But there are some things that are not in the best interest of our son’s future happiness, even though he may think otherwise. So we tell him we’re restricting him from doing an unwise thing today because we are not interested in his momentary pleasure; we are only interested in his long-term happiness. We’ve found when a teenager accepts the major premise that you love him and are interested in his future success; it makes the short-term pain of today’s disappointments much easier to bear.

Because our son knows our parental major premise is in his own best interest, it is imperative for him to comply with our wishes if he wants to have a happy, successful, independent and self-sustaining life. He knows everything we do and say as parents is designed toward that end. He also knows our support is tied to his acceptance of and compliance with the parental major premise. Consequently, rather than arguing with us or fighting against our expectations, he usually does what we want when we want because he knows we are on his side.

Being on the Side of Your Employees

The “parental major premise” also works in managing employees. When your employees understand and accept the major premise and imperatives in the workplace they tend to be less resistant to your expectations. If you truly “love” your employees and would never do anything to purposely harm them – and they believe it and feel it – they will be more inclined to do what you ask.

Everything you do as a manager should be designed to help your employees have a happy, successful, independent and self-sustaining career. This is why you must identify what you want, communicate what you want, hire and train your employees so they can give you what you want, and do everything within your power as a manager to help your employee succeed. When your employees sense that you are sincerely interested in their success, they will not fight against you because they will know you are on their side. §

Innovative Management Group’s “Accountability Management Workshop” teaches managers how to help their employees to get the “its” at work by first helping the managers to get it. We focus every employee at every level of your organization on the things that matter most. Call us to learn more about this hard-hitting, results-oriented management training program.

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